They're coming home.
It rained over Dublin today for the first time in weeks, which felt like the restoration of a kind of natural order. This assertion of July's ancient rhythms extended through to the evening as England were eliminated from the World Cup.
RTE kept in step with this sudden lurch toward tradition, and sent Tony O'Donoghue to a pub in Letterfrack populated with Harry Kane's Irish relatives. Tony - the outstanding journalist that he is - immediately found and interviewed the most plausibly English man in the West of Ireland, named Quentin Bryar. Tony told us that the pub promised a free pint to everyone in the bar if Kane scored, although added that the few Croatian fans in the pub stoically planned to refuse the offer.
That there were a few Croatian fans in the pub shouldn't surprise us, given that many of us connected with our Croatian roots, stretching as they do as far back as last Saturday night.
Ahead of the game, the RTE panel were generally pro-England, with Duffer tipping them to go through and Eamon Dunphy maintaining his new public role as England Fan.
ITV decided to break up their panel of Coming Homers with Roy Keane, meaning we finally had the chance to see the clash of two men who are more alike than they might like to admit. There were times when Keane disagreed with his estranged biographer: Eamo was adamant that Dejan Lovren should have had a penalty just before half-time, whereas Keane dismissed the same incident."Never in a million years. It's not chess they are playing".
The men diverged further. Whereas Dunphy was adamant pre-game that England had faced a proper test up to now, viewers could almost smell the burning rubber of the full-time U-turn. "This was the first time England have been asked a real question". The post-extra-time addendum was that they "failed it pretty miserably".
Keane, however, stuck dutifully and consistently to his role as grenade-launcher in chief.
Before the game, Keane began laying the building blocks of his dam against English optimism. "They've been in these situations before England...and they've messed it up", he said with the slightest hint of a smile. Such was England's first-half dominance, there was little Keane could do at half-time but tempt fate.
"If they don't finish this off, they'll never forgive themselves", said Keane, slinking away to a dark corner having lightly wattle-and-daubed the trap.
He returned at full-time to peer downward toward his catch. "We praised England before the game for their composure and energy but that's gone out the window and it's back to the old England".
And soon it was time to twist the knife. After the game,Gary Neville hailed the positivity and unity engendered by this England team, contrasting it to the "political shambles" at home.
Keane then laid out his cards. "Croatia deserved it at the end. They seemed to have more energy, they were more streetwise, England made too many sloppy errors".
All the while, Dixon kneaded all the positivity he could find with incantations of 'Gareth', 'learning experience', 'youth' and 'the future'.
Keane rejoined with "they were caught out defensively. England weren't quite good enough to take that opportunity".
Then came the bullets.
"They might never get a better opportunity" slipped out, followed by the ghost of a smile dancing across his lips.
Gary Neville was evidently frustrated at this point, pointing out that "you've mentioned that numerous times", conspicuously looking away from Keane to Wright and Dixon.
Keane wasn't finished.
"I wouldn't be as excited as the lads, because I'm Irish and I have a different outlook on it. I think they have a lot to do. A lot of them are still playing at mid-table clubs and have to get to the top clubs. The challenge is even bigger for them now".
Then, finally, came the assault on the wanton Coming Homeism of the last ten days. Here he clashed with Ian Wright, who is less an analyst than he is a bubbling, burbling vessel for the hopes and dreams of a country.
RK: You have to focus on the next game. Everyone was talking about the final and football coming home.
IW: We weren't talking about the final. We were just having a laugh with you. We were happy, you weren't happy for us being happy.
RK: I don't mind ye being happy. You were getting carried away. Ye were planning the final and where the parades were. Ye were! Ye need a reality check. You're a grown man! You played the game! You know how hard it is to get to a World Cup final. Relax yourself.
It was a remarkable sight for ITV to indulge something in such trenchant opposition to the prevailing mood of the millions watching. That they were willing to led to the TV moment of the World Cup.
Here comes the similarity: that Keane was at the vanguard of this was all very...Dunphyesque.
This column has criticised Keane in the past for being a bad pundit, in the sense that he rarely tells you anything you didn't know about the game. Instead, when Roy Keane speaks, you learn most about Roy Keane.
Sometimes, however, that doesn't matter.
Sometimes what matters is.....well, showbiz baby.
- Disappointed in Clive Tyldesley ending the game with a replica of his line after the Colombia victory. "England are contenders again". They'd just got knocked out!
- Proud of Glenn Hoddle for refusing to take the bait of Tyldesley's belief that Perisic's foot was high for Croatia's first goal, dismissing it by saying that there would be no question marks over it were England to score.
- "Croatia are Split" - Hoddle going all Jim Beglin.
- ITV's pre-game montage of John Barnes plaintively reading the lyrics to World in Motion fell quite flat.
- On RT, Jose Mourinho again asserted that he will manage at the World Cup, saying that "I am ready to give everything to a country even if it is not my Portugal".
- Sticking with Mou, he hailed Perisic's physicality and then added that "I don't know why he didn't come to Manchester when I wanted him". He also hailed the pride Croatian players had for their country, saying that many of them had "probably lost family members in wars".
Tweets of the Day
Roy Keane is just awful I am sorry
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) July 11, 2018
I enjoy Roy Keane being on the panel. It’s like a Samuel Beckett character has wandered in and he’s about to mutter: “Yes, there is football but there is also death.”
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) July 11, 2018
Somewhere a nervous buyer for H&M hovers over a ‘submit’ button on a purchase order for 100,000 waistcoats. Nervy times
— Paul Mallon (@PaulMallon1) July 11, 2018
“And Fellaini” pic.twitter.com/XBvv4dUP4s
— Greg Farrimond (@GregFarrimond) July 10, 2018
You think Croatia might be tired, spare a thought for Cuneyt Cakir, who has refereed every single Champions League game in the last four years.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 11, 2018